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How to Identify Tech Support Scam Calls and Pop-Ups

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SecurityNovember 27, 2020
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A very common scam that has become very popular in recent years is fake tech support phone calls. These scams often target older individuals who do not understand how these things work. In 2019, the FTC received more than 100,000 reports of this type of fraud. 

Scammers use scare tactics in a variety of ways, either by phone call, using a pop-up (on a malicious site or from malware on your computer), or social media ads or search results.

What are Tech Support Scam Calls?

You receive a call from someone claiming to be from a well-known technology company, and they inform you that your computer is infected and they are calling to help fix it. 

The scammer then provides you with instructions on how to download the fix, which is actually malware or ransomware, so they can take control of your computer and extort money from you, either through the purchase of software or to unlock your files. 

If you visit an unsecured website, you might see a pop-up saying the same thing with a phone number to call to fix your "infected" machine. Scammers try to make these pop-ups look legitimate so that you will trust them; however, they are fake.

Apple and Microsoft Phone Calls

Many Americans have complained that they have received calls from either Apple or Microsoft, and even the phone number caller ID said it was from them. The scammer does the same thing, asks you to make changes to your computer's security settings that allows them to take control of it. 

If your computer is already infected with malware, you might see a pop-up saying it's from Microsoft, and you might assume it is coming from the operating system; it is not.

In some instances, the scammer will pressure you to pay for software to clean the infection and ask for your credit card number. Do not fall for it. They may ask for payment via prepaid gift cards or Bitcoin. Most likely, there is nothing wrong with your computer at all. 

Microsoft and Apple do not contact customers through phone calls or pop-ups to let them know they have an infection on their computer. This is important to understand MICROSOFT and APPLE WILL NEVER CALL YOU. 

How to Avoid Being Scammed

Some scammers actually use paid ads and search result listings to perpetrate this type of fraud. There are various telltale signs you can be on the lookout for, to avoid being scammed by this one.

  • Real tech support companies NEVER contact you by phone, email, or text message to alert you to a problem or infection with your computer. 
  • Legitimate pop-up warnings in antivirus/anti-malware software or the operating system do not ever tell you to call a phone number.
  • Never call the tech support phone number in a pop-up.
  • If someone calls you claiming to be a tech support person, hang up.
  • Never download software from untrusted sources.
  • Use a pop-up blocker on your internet browser.
  • If using Windows, turn on Windows Security real-time antivirus protection to protect against these types of scams. 
  • Never give out a payment or personal information over the phone to a stranger who calls you.
  • Some signs that it's a scam are poor grammar, spelling, or unprofessional looking logos.

What to Do if You Have Been Scammed

If you fall victim to this type of scam, take immediate action and follow the steps below.

  • Unplug your computer from the internet and take it off Wi-Fi.
  • If you are comfortable doing it, install antivirus/anti-malware software and run a full scan of your entire machine. 
  • Have a professional clean off any viruses, Trojans, malware, or ransomware.
  • Change your computer password immediately.
  • Change your account passwords (online logins) because you have no way of knowing what information the scammers were able to steal.
  • If you provided credit card information, call and cancel the card. Alert the fraud department of your bank.
  • Get a copy of your credit reports looking for any suspicious activity.
  • Update the security settings on your computer to revert them back to before the scammer took over.
  • Never give out bank account or any other personally identifiable information (PII) to anyone unsolicited.

There have also been reports of someone calling to offer you a refund for the prepaid tech support services you purchased. Be warned; it is a scam. This is not true. 

Contact the FTCto report the fraud. They have a form on their website where you can file a complaint, or you can call them. The FTC also provides excellent information on how to identity and report scams of this type and the impact your reporting has on the overall effect. 

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